Friday, December 29, 2017

January: Ladies First!

Mine had maroon hair, but you bet she was brown.
It's time to admit something: in games with customizeable or selectable characters, I pretty much always go female. Even better if there's a nonwhite skin tone, but I'm getting ahead of myself. During January, I'm going to do my best to stick to the theme of ladies in gaming. I might have to stretch beyond the obvious requirement of having a female protagonist, but I'll do my best to make it relevant. I'll stay away from games with non-humans, and ship games won't count unless the pilot is obviously female. Puzzle games and other titles with no protagonist won't count.

My first title is going to be the remastered Uncharted 3, of which the head writer and director was Amy Hennig. These games have memorable action scenes, unparalleled voice acting that backs up great writing, and look and sound gorgeous. All of this is Naughty Dog's signature quality on the entire series, and Amy Hennig has a lot to do with that. According to Wikipedia, Hennig believes that the creative direction of a script holds more importance than the graphics of the game. The fact that the Uncharted games are also the best in terms of production value just goes to show that Naughty Dog is one of the most talented AAA studios out there. As to why it's the first title in my ladies-first month is that I'd already finished two of the three Uncharted trilogy games in December.

After that, I'm planning to complete Chronicles of Teddy (exploratory action adventure), Dreamfall Chapters (slow-paced adventure), Momodora (action adventure), and Gravity Rush (action). These titles all feature female protagonists, and January is a great month to go through them together!

Also, there are always the games I come back to when trophy or story progress just seems too much at a given moment. My friends and I still play Overwatch almost daily: I'll do my best to stick to female characters unless I'm playing Mystery Heroes mode, which randomly selects heroes for you. Luckily, The OW cast is pretty evenly split between male and female, and the majority of my playtime is as Zarya, the pink-haired gravity gun-wielding Russian bodybuilder. Star Wars Battlefront 2 is where I'll have to make the biggest concession to not playing female characters. The devs added female storm troopers, and your gender for spawning as Rebel or Imperial troops is random.

I am Mother Russia.
While I don't expect these games to address the issues of how female characters are often shallowly written, it's a theme I think worthy of pursuing that will be quite fun. I certainly do think that female presence in gaming is improving and becoming more significant, for what it's worth. Either way, I have a handful of great titles to get to. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Previously, in my living room

Despite several posts in the last month being more about frugality, that doesn't mean I haven't been bleepin and bloopin during these cold months. We actually got snow on Christmas Eve here in Seattle, and I can count on one hand how many times that's happened in my lifetime. Snow is my favorite encouragement not to go outside, login to the PSN and get to work.
You know you're humming the Duck Tales music

The Disney Afternoon Collection went on sale for an agreeable $8: 5 great Capcom-made Disney games and one real stinker, TaleSpin. Aside from TaleSpin, the games aren't super difficult, and offer some slick platforming in adventures that last about as long as an episode of their respective shows. The trophy list means beating each game twice, as well as doing its Boss Rush mode, all of which is very forgiving. New games to me were Duck Tales 2, Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers 2, TaleSpin and Darkwing Duck. While the other games have the expected tight NES-era controls, TaleSpin doesn't really fit in, and is relatively a chore to play.

Take some time to look through Nate's journal as you progress
While we're on the subject of cheap collections, the Uncharted trilogy went on sale! These games are like playable action movies in the best sense of the concept. These aren't just games with cinematics simply connected with walking down corridors and shallow gunplay. Nathan Drake is the wisecracking over-the-top explorer turned spy turned ninja. Victor Sullivan is his charming older best friend who is still a ladies man, but always comes through at rough times. Elena Fisher starts off as a journalist in the wrong place at the wrong time, who owns up to the situation and ends up being pretty deadly. The voice acting is amazing, with plenty of sporadic character-defining banter and although events are scripted, there is a liquidity to the physics that makes each restart slightly different. The games don't really address their own violence, and keeps the story lighthearted as long as you stay ignorant of the fact that all the pirates and mercs are cannon fodder. This collection was released 2 years ago at $40 and was still worth it at that pricepoint, since the trilogy also got both graphical and technical overhauls. The first game is still a bit clunky, and is the hardest. However, between quick loading times, frequent checkpoints and a manageable 60 collectibles, the experience is really enjoyable.

Then you get to Uncharted 2, which ups the ante in every way. The game blows the lid off Nathan Drake's adventures with extra guns, extra explosions, extra jokes, and it's extra badass. There's a train level in it that will make you crap your pants. At one point, you end up in the most graphically-gorgeous location I've ever seen, and with this version's 1080p update, it's even more solidified. This area, Kathmandu, in Uncharted 2 ties with the train level for my favorite sequence in the series. The ohh-so minor gripe is that the original game opened with a metal horn and chime when it showed the NaughtyDog logo, and it's been replaced with the trilogy's own intro screen. Luckily this Southwestern Asian horn shows up in the music at points in the story, so all is not lost.

Greedy modern business practices spotted, Sir!
Flying in this game vs Battlefront 1,
some wins, some losses
Next on the list is Star Wars Battlefront 2. EA controversy aside, during the summer I promised myself I wouldn't buy it until the price dropped to $40. Whether the backlash of pissed off gamers cancelling half a million preorders, the release of The Last Jedi, or the holiday season caused the PSN sale, Battlefront 2 went on sale for $35. So, like cleaning up after a gold-pooping pig, I happily scooped that shit up.

There's no way around it: Star Wars Battlefront 2 is dope as DICE. With a very forgiving trophy list, I got to play through the campaign on a low difficulty, meaning I didn't get hung up and could experience the story.

Okay, now we're Luke on this bright planet...
One really confusing point is that when you first start the game, you choose between the Rebel and Imperial factions, which will bring customized challenges to earn extra currency. You're warned that you can't change factions, and this choice locks out of the other faction's tasks. I thought this meant they were dividing the single player campaign at least until you beat it, and then giving you a chance to go through the other perspective. I may have actually preferred this approach instead of what I got. I ended up playing a bunch of different characters from both factions with what felt like a few Forced (see what I did, there?) transitions at points, but ultimately was a really cool experience.

I can only complain about the loading time in Battlefront, which makes me more likely to play extra rounds without opening chests or switching modes, as even going to the main menu is easily 60 full seconds of loading time.
Time to get Ororo Munr-owned!

Last but not least is something I didn't know existed until seeing it at the sale: Marvel Puzzle Quest. Flashy gem-matching animations, flashier special abilities, awesome but limited selection of music: triple check.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

2017 honored titles

Instead of having a typical Top-10 list, I'm opting to give shout outs for extraordinary game titles I've had the pleasure and pain of playing this year. Keep in mind that the game's publish date may not have been in 2017. Looking through blog posts and my PSN profile, I have played over 60 titles this year, completing the trophy list for damn near all of them. One thing I noticed is the large amount of really well-done indie titles played this year. It's so nice that there are many alternatives to the full-priced games that take 40 hours to platinum and gobble up all your hard drive space, oppressively making you play multiplayer online. Not that that isn't worth it, sometimes *cough Battlefront II is amazing cough.* Also, it's worth noting that a great deal of games that I played and enjoyed this year are on sale for PSN's Winter sale. Get em cheap while you can!

That's said, let the ceremony begin:

Strider what??? I can't Hir-yu!
I have to say the funnest game to platinum was split between Strider and Infamous: First Light. Both open-world games are gorgeously designed with main campaigns that are shorter than 10 hours, and provide enough challenges to need some reflexes and timing. However, I got over any hard parts with just a few retries, so frustration was minimal. It also helps my frugal friends that you can usually find either title on sale for ~$10.

Speaking of enjoyable games with minimal commitment, I have to give kudos to Xeodrifter for being the shortest-but-sweetest. You could beat it in an afternoon and still have time to cook dinner, making sure to portion out the next day's lunch, of course. Xeodrifter is a side-view multiple-zone exploration action title with backtracking (yes, I'd rather call it that than Metroid-vania) and this gem was $3 when I bought it on the PSN.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's the fully-budgeted triple-A colossus Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. This game was everything I expected from SquareEnix and more: upgraded sound quality, including a remastered orchestral soundtrack, a super-detailed job system that encourages multiple playthroughs, and a larger game than the original PS2 title. It also wins the award for being the longest. The platinum trophy was about 20 hours too long in the inevitable grind it took to beat the final trial, but the main game and most of the extra stuff was really enjoyable. Also, it's still a feat that battle is compelling with the attack mechanic (pretty much) removed. The art direction is top-notch, as expected from a Japanese developer.

One of my more recently-played games on this list is Abzu, which deserves special recognition for being playable art. Gameplay mechanics are simple, and difficulty is almost nonexistent...this game has the same soul as Flower and Journey (these are distinct things with stupidly basic names ala Apple's naming scheme.) (The new) Ratchet and Clank also gets a seat at the table for having beautiful art direction. Every one of these titles looks cartoony at first glance. However, between bug-free gameplay, a decent soundtrack, great voice acting, jokes, and amazingly-tested controls, R&C games kill my theory that Western developers don't prioritize stability.

Darksiders II, however, is shining proof that stability just is not a priority to some developers and publishers. This game wins my award for buggiest game played in 2017, and I played both Smite games' betas and a slew of indie titles. Nothing pisses me off more than unfinished games, especially ones that show off money in other places. To be fair, the game had a charming protagonist, neat art direction and the gameplay was like God of War meets Zelda. It was just buggy as fuck, and that's my top gaming pet peeve.

Before we descend into the Pit of Negativity, I want to give the loudest shout out to a few independent developers. The best game I played in 2017 that was made by a small indie developer was Axiom Verge. As a matter of fact, this was developed by one person. The game has a kick ass soundtrack, stylized 16-bit graphics, tight controls, and is an absolute blast to play. This game would have been impressive with any size studio, but Thomas Happ did the impossible and I got to hand it to the man.

Next up, for larger independent game dev teams is Pyre. I already talked your ears off (or typed your eyes off) about it, and just want to add that, in a year of other anticipated-but-disappointing experiences, Pyre was a 2017 favorite. The game's concept of dynamic storytelling is ingrained enough that even the final song has interchangeable lyrics based on what your characters did in the story. I have never seen this before, and it shows that SuperGiant Games is thoroughly artistic and talented. If you like games where you can affect your own outcomes, there are few titles that do it as well as Pyre, but it may be worth mentioning Stories: The Path of Destinies. This game deserves recognition for having 16 distinct endings, being super fun to play, and making me laugh out loud at several points.

Lastly, two games that resonated with me were RPGest RPG Earthlock, and side-view tactics game Steamworld: Heist. The former hit most of the notes of JRPGs, but backed off of a few of the corny tropes like being a farmer, not dealing with romance, and a clever character-improvement system. Steamworld has great art direction and I am a huge fan of turn-based tactical combat. It's also one of the few titles with DLC that I bought and gobbled up immediately.

How-abso-freakin-lutely-ever, the year wasn't without it's lame notes.

Don't forget to hunt and craft for 2 hours first.
I'd have to share my greatest disappointment of the year as Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If they had added crafting to the usual formula, that would have been great. If they had added difficulty and lessened navigational hand-holding, that would have been fine. If aiming didn't suck...well that's something inherent to Nintendo games, so whatever. Breath of the Wild is all of these things, and a lot to change at once, and gameplay has been slowed down significantly. I know that this is blasphemy, and am open to investing more time to try and like the game. However, two restarts and 20 hours total have been invested so far into exploring, dying, having to craft and getting bored of the whole process.

At least Zelda works, though. The same can't be said of FFXV's DLC, which is the crappiest of crap, mostly because of how badly it contrasts with my favorite game of the generation. From the obvious gap-filling of the main quest's story to the untested and unwelcome gameplay change of single combat and snowmobiling, these expansions represent Japanese publishers being swayed in the worst way to follow shitty DLC practices in the industry. For better or for worse, the gameplay of the DLCs are all different, so Episode Ignius may prove to be good after all.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 didn't make the list of disappointments because it's pretty gosh-dang sweet. The publisher ruined the online experience, but the game is an improvement in almost every way over the first game. Graphics, less-swimmy controls, rarely-enough-occurring heroes that have a balanced impact on the map, and more distinct weapons are all things I wanted. However, every other match, I ran into a pay-to-winner with a max leveled Vader that decimated whatever opposing team was unlucky enough to play against someone with a larger wallet. This is a real consequence of a greedy publisher choosing money over integrity. At the same time, Overwatch is periodically ruined by awful members who are supposed to be on your team, so multiplayer games just have that vulnerability of being not-so-great sometimes.

All things considered, 2017 may have been my most productive year in terms of games completed, and that's considering at least 30% of my game time attributed to Overwatch. Maybe I can hit 80 different console games played in 2018.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Cold, hard, cash-saving

Time to dust off the space heaters and buy that bucket of Swiss-Miss! If you haven't already, you should completely ventilate your house once a week so all your cooties and heating system junk can go play outside rather than in your lungs. The 25 cents or so to heat your space back up is worth what you'd spend treating your sick self. Make sure to check your windows and sliding glass doors and tell your landlords ASAP so that your expensive heat isn't all seeping out. I still have to remind my girlfriend to wear a hoodie around the house if 65F isn't warm enough. You all must think I'm a monster, but I am a firm believer in the human body's ability to adapt, rather than needing certain comforts. I am also frugal af.

In terms of energy efficiency, one major difference I made was buying curtains. Most apartments are cheaply made and come with a set of white blinds. With a few screw and nail holes, I installed additional curtains, most of which I got at my local secondhand shop. For $50, I covered 3 large windows, controlling light and screen glare, and more importantly, temperature. I did this last year and have since had less issues with the sun heating up the place, and the cold freezing the place. While you wait to get curtains, you can at least make sure to open your blinds for heat and close them at sunset to get the most of natural energy. This might be obvious info, but lazy me always left them closed and ended up needing to crank that baseboard heater a little more.

We're also in hot drink season, folks. My workplace is connected to a Starbucks, which rakes in all the extra business of lazies who don't take the 2 minutes to make their own cup of their favorite hot beverage. Taking time to make your own drinks lets you step away from your workspace for a moment yet continue to be productive. You may even surprise yourself by making something you like more than what you'd buy.

Bad choice to have to make at 7am...
Also, the worst part of those cafe trips is the glistening, perfectly-cooked pastries that charm another $4 onto our cards. Then, there's the $6 yogurt, economizing your guilt; the 'healthier' option (until you read the nutrition label) is more expensive. I avoid this by eating two (2) packets of instant oatmeal, which currently totals 20 cents. I am far from immune to the charm of a good breakfast, though, as the weekends always bring something more elaborate. Once a month I hit breaking point and just have to go to a good local diner and over-eat myself into blissful oblivion. But $6 yogurts and $10 salads is just something you should only get in absolute desperation, if you're on a budget.

And finally, Christmas. It's a barrage of should-I, shouldn't-I emotions and the guilt of giving cheaper gifts or no gifts just might not be worth it for some of you. I would say that in the very least, make sure your Thank Yous are genuine or practiced. If you're in a situation where you receive but not give, the givers probably want your positive reaction more than to simply exchange stuff. As a side note, I personally think the majority of gift giving should happen on birthdays, rather than this predictable season.

If you are going for purchases, remember that you can switch over to and donate a portion of your purchase to a charity of your choice. I chose one of the Internet rights advocate groups, since the bored FCC decided to stop doing their jobs and sold us out. You can just as well choose animal shelters or help sick kids. Anyhoo, switching URLS (to will preserve your cart, too, so you can do it just before checkout. Amazon didn't pay me to say this, I just figure you can support a good cause with literally 24 keystrokes or a mouse click.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Shoddy UIs I'm callin you out!

Me, when Daddy Apple, Grandma Google (not pictured)
and Mommy Microsoft change their UI
Apple is awesome at needless User Interface updates, though occasionally some useful features come out of their reckless restructuring. Finger gestures on their sweet-sweet touchpads is probably my favorite enhancement in the last decade. To contrast, Windows uses tried-and-true formulas and seems to think that there's no use in changing something that people already know. Remember the first time you saw a Windows (Start) key? Game changer. Then came the right-mouse-button key, and...nothing ever again to the keyboard. There are merits to innovation vs staying the course, but between the cracks are some poor choices for UI. Now, before I get started, I'll say that there are probably built-in solutions or separate applications that solve some of these issues, but the average user isn't aware, and that counts as poor UI to me.

You'd better have a good memory if you want to replicate that
Layer restriction: In designing my email signature, I wanted to copy and paste from my inbox, the main Outlook page. This is 2 layers back, from Signature (top layer) to Compose (1 layer down) email to Inbox. but since the dawning of time, Windows won't let you select the screen more than one layer back. I can move the signature box out of the way to see the composed email below it. However, I can't move the next layer (Compose email) or interact with it. I see this interactive layer restriction in many applications, even this very website when uploading media.

Another example: say I want to upload an image, but forget where the cursor is and corresponding text. Add on the fact that the photos I'm looking for are buried under a 10-folder directory path. Too bad, can't look without closing out of the upload screen. Why is this still the standard right now? At the very least, you should be able to make layers transparent at-will.

Most apps let you drag and drop between your file explorer and content creator, which is a sweet alternative, but you still get trapped in situations like Outlook.

File management on your smartphone: Why-ohh-why do I have to download a separate app to look at files on my phone in Android? Want to do the same on iPhone? Forget about it. On numerous occasions, I've put new music on my iOS/Android device, only to have whatever music app not recognize the song. Unless I've downloaded a file management app (why isn't this installed by default?), there's no way for me to check where the song went and begin a diagnosis without connecting it to a computer. Don't even get me started about needing iTunes to do the same for your iDevices. It's a silly form of restriction that Apple customers just deal with. A $1000 phone should be able to do anything and everything I want it to, damnit!

Traffic lights: Think about it, folks. We've shaken our fists at drivers who gun the engine through a freshly-red light. We've been the maniacs who are doing it, too. While drivers aren't blameless, ask yourself the question: how long is a yellow light yellow? The answer varies by intersection, not even block, city or state! There is no standard for something that is a daily danger (double-d for short. Actually, no one has ever called it that.) The burden is on the driver to make this split-second decision, when we could just implement something like a flashing yellow light that pulses 4 times before going red. While we're talking about good ideas for traffic lights, B.C. has flashing green lights that mean a pedestrian has activated the cross walk button, and so be on the lookout. Federal mandate, pronto!
Side note: that ad off to the right...

Ad placement in on Youtube: Using anything besides Chrome means I have to run Youtube without AdBlocker. Before the FCC ruins it and makes us all pay Comcast a Youtube premium, the company needs to pay for that data-gobbling with advertising, which I have no problem with in general. The problem is the 5-, 10- and even 30-minute advertisements that will begin in the middle of your hourlong video on the 110 reasons why Star Trek Discovery is the greatest show ever. We can all sit through a minute or so of commercials, but there's no rhyme or reason when these display; sometimes the videos stop mid-word!

an oldie, but Goldeneye had atrocious controls. Move with the stick
and aim with the D-pad or C-buttons. Gross.
Lack of customizeable controls in at least 50% of videogames: Why is this still a thing? If the controller has a trigger on it, why is the shoulder button above it the one to fire? Maybe the developers have thoroughly thought out the perfect control scheme. Good job, but there are always people who want something different, and might even get turned off by controls that aren't so great. I've written about this before, and there is also a collective of disabled gamers who have created their own controllers that don't work properly if a game doesn't have customizeable controls. There is just no good reason for this not to be a standard requirement. Unassigned buttons are Step 1 in designing controls, FFS!

Logins: I've already written an entry about password recovery. The gripe is when you put in the wrong info and the website doesn't confirm whether the login or password is what's wrong. This is probably a security feature, but is also frustrating because I personally have about 50 different accounts that use one of 5 email addresses. Even at my workplace, the handful of applications have different login schema, whether that's first.last or email or id#. Employers should read my blog!

Anyone can wave off these gripes as petty first world problems, but the businesses responsible for these had a goal of creating a good product that's easy to use, so there's that, too.

What about you: At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login? There's a poll under this post!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

FPMC: Fall Passive Media Consumption

Well, before Demonspawn Ajit Pai, Comcast and the FCC totally ruin the internet as we know it, I might as well continue to reflect on some entertainment with no major spoilers.

You can pretend like you don't hear the title music playing...
I blew through Stranger Things 2, and was glad to see every character have something to do; instead of the 4 boys working on one thing together, the teens their thing, and the adults on another, they were divided and mixed and the parallel storytelling was awesomely done.

I saw a chart earlier in the year that explained how sophisticated television is now compared to what our grandparents grew up with. My only gripe with shows/movies with multi-layered storytelling is when the smart-ass creators also try to time warp. Cloud Atlas, anyone? Not everyone can direct a Memento, and when the visual communication gets lost, so do the poor suckers that have to watch it. This makes me think of my first gripe with Justice League 2017.

Who turned out the lights on all of these movies?
The first hour or so of Justice League is like reading the first paragraph of 5 different essays with no transitions. That would result in a B- in English 090. You still pass, but that paper ain't being put up on the fridge. It's hard to have 5 different characters intersect, but that movie cost $300m. Perhaps having a director could have helped. Anyway, an hour in, the movie gets to the good stuff, and has its funny moments, a few awesome brawls, and was more enjoyable than I'd imagined. I wished the score was better and the heroes didn't dumbly let the bad guy steal a really important weapon, but I thought it was cool.

Next up: Disney/Pixar's Coco, the movie set in Mexico during the Day of the Dead festival. Disney's stepped up its culture game fo sho. Moana had Polynesian voice actors and was based on Pacific Island mythology and Coco's main VA cast had Jon Ratzenberger, a Pixar staple, as the only non-Hispanic. The movie was gorgeous as expected, and I hadn't seen any previews to tell me what to expect. The only gripe was the neglectful parents nearby who let their kids wander the dark theater while they were on their phones, as well as the too-long-for-a-short-film Winter Special about Olaff from Frozen trying to find a new "chra-dish-shin" (tradition) for that time of the year. The last Pixar short I saw was the Hawaiian Islands lava video before Inside Out that had my eyes...err, sweating.

no te metas con la abuela!

Most importantly, I got to see the culture's views on the afterlife as opposed to sometimes gruesome, immediate and sad elements of death I'm used to seeing. Dia de Los Muertos has a lot in common with Japan's Obon and Korea's Chuseok, visiting family graves, making shrines and offering food to the dead. In the US, we have Memorial Day, which I've never seen more than a visit to a deceased serviceman's grave, some flowers and kind words. It's easy to feel like there's no culture in the US when our sparse holidays are more about the general concept of family togetherness than anything purposeful. By contrast, every Korean and Japanese person I've ever met could describe their family's rituals in great detail, adding where their family differs from the cultural norm. Ahh well, I still enjoy the togetherness.

'Ey, man.
I also saw Thor 3, which was delightfully weird and funny. The planet most of the movie took place on was eclectic, somewhere between The Fifth Element and Tron. The movie's director and voice actor for Korg (the blue rock dude), is none other than Taika Waititi, who makes really funny movies like The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which I also watched recently.

UPDATE: How could I forget the most off the chain show of them all. I am 100000% a Trekkie after re-watching The Next Generation earlier this year. Now I understand a bit of the sting of watching the occasionally corny, clever insight into humanity and philosophy the show would drop on you went to the flashy sci-fi action flicks that JJ Abrams brought us. Take this aesthetic (the show looks absolutely gorgeous), add back the humanity with some witty quips and smart shit and you get my new favorite thing in the universe: Star Trek: Discovery.

She's thinking of some clever shit.

This show is badass. Michael Burnam...half a season hasn't explained her name passionate to her own demise, and puts a lot of people in their places. I love watching Sonequa Martin-Green perform. I am upset to read that she is already married. She's gorgeous, but this is a case where I admire both the actor and the character. The captain she serves ends up sending your mind thinking the worst only to have something else happen. Get caught up, y'all. There are 11 episodes right now, as it's on its mid-season break til January.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Grey Friday: Know your brands

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wasteful, but I do get an extra blood rush during November's consumer push. It's no secret that Black Friday deals are businesses' chance to get rid of old inventory. While that's no problem in itself (that's a good frugal direction to be headed,) be careful of overloading on junk.

My best advice for thriving frugality is to know your good third party brands. Spend a few minutes on Amazon or CNET to learn some known flaws with big brands or product lines. For example, none of the LG tvs I've seen are not very good at handling black levels...shadows, facial hair and the letterbox lines all look "neon black," instead of having varying levels of depth. Samsung has a track record of terrible customer service. Stores used to use different types of cables to sell different tiers. HDMI (the current standard) for Samsung and Sony, and component cables (extremely limited in color depth and resolution) for Vizio and Spectre. I haven't seen this practice for at least 5 years, though. The stores may have realized that some people don't have the $200 extra to get the name brand; or maybe they realized it was a shitty underhanded practice. Ultimately, custom settings can make your cheapie TV look much better.

And please, please adjust your picture settings...a 2nd-tier TV is very capable of looking like the picture on the left.
Sometimes, foreign brands are as cheap as third party, but have amazingly high standards. For headphones, Beats are overpriced and bass-heavy, and you're better off getting the German-engineered Sennheisers and spending the extra cash on something else. Logitech, Swiss, makes great, affordable products that last forever. In the realms of computers, Acer and Asus, Taiwanese, sells laptops with better hardware than HPs that cost almost half as much.

I won't weigh in on fashion-related Black Friday sales because part of my frugality means I'm crisp, but not current *brushes off shoulder.* I also won't say what stores to avoid, though 'doorbuster' sales make me imagine the worst, and I'd personally just order online at my own pace. Our favorite retailers are doing sales all month long, so there's no need to skip out on your loved ones Thursday night after the Martinelli's is still washing down the third piece of pie you crammed down. We aren't drinking and driving, after all.

If you're only looking for a few things, the amount you save in not paying tax on, or the free shipping from many sellers might cancel out the lower-priced local deal if you factor in your personal time, gas, and hospital bills associated with stick fighting over the last SNES classic at store price. (Damnit, Nintendo, just make more; it's not that hard of a concept.) Year-round, consider DealNews, TechBargains and woot for daily deals; there's no reason to pay big box retailers' rent, line Shell Oil's pockets with money, and miss out on your cousins' cracked-voice rendition of Poker Face when you can have stuff sent to you.

Last warning, stores will probably try and getcha with one of their store credit cards that gives you 5% cash back or 10% off every purchase. Often, you can find a better deal on the items themselves online with a little bit of searching, and just not spend the 5 or 10% in the first place. That means you're not paying interest on it, or forced to spend said rebate at that very same store! Besides, I have a hard time cancelling unused, unneeded lines of credit, and that doesn't help anyone! As always, keep your spend demons in check, and think about that debt you have to pay back at the end of the month for that chocolate robot frog that was 30% off. Have a good Black Friday, but more importantly, a great Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Another Fall Gaming Spree

a little subtle South Park reference action
I'm on fire! Over the last month, I've taken a chunk out of backlog indie arcade games, including my 2017 To Play list. The biggest barrier to getting the Platinum on SteamWorld: Heist involved collecting hats that appear randomly. This meant grinding easy kills with overpowered characters for a handful of hours before realizing that the $5 DLC significantly decreased the grind. Since I liked the base game anyway, I was happy to part with the funds and finally finished up both the base platinum and the DLC trophies in a quick 5 hours.

Ride the jetstream
Next up was Abzu, a beautiful undersea exploration game very similar to Journey. In terms of difficulty, it was very chillax, and the road to completion is 5-6 hours. The game is gorgeous, and really atmospheric, so play it in the dark with your sedative of choice! This game was free for PS+ members in May this year, so hopefully you already have it.

The graphics are as great as they need to be
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture was superbly mundane. Recently, I'd seen Transformers: The Last Knight, which is a dumb story about how the Knights of the Round Table are connected with the Transformers, the robot aliens from some other planet. Rapture is a stark contrast to this. You're in a super ordinary but abandoned town, and you collect memories that clue you in as to what happened to everybody. There's not much of a twist, as you learn pretty quickly that some strange light-cum-virus took whisked people off to a strange dimension that you don't really get to explore. The voice acting is compelling, the very average town is graphically crisp, clean and realistic. It's a slow-moving game, but the path to platinum can be completed over a weekend. This was another free PS+ title in the last year or so, and I recommend it if you're tired of getting your ass kicked at games!

*Ahem* Coarse language *straightens necktie*
Basic AI, basic towers, pretty simple
Continuing my theme of relaxing, low-difficulty, cheap-or-free trophy hunting, Royal Defense was a $2 impulse purchase for me. It's a very forgiving tower defense game, and can be completed in a weekend as well. The game crashed twice, one time actually erasing my saved progress. Luckily it was an hour or so of progress, and I memorized the tower placement, catching up pretty quickly. My advice for this is that every 10 levels (there are 60), you might pop out to the XMB and upload saved data to the cloud, and continue playing. It's a bit below average for its genre, but $2 for a weekend and some trophies worked for me.

Hue is a bit of a creeper sometimes
Next up, Hue, a free PS+ title this month. Hue is a puzzle game with a handful of headscratchers out of 60 or so tasks, meaning it's not very difficult at all. You start out in a black and white world and slowly discover colors, while learning about a person who periodically leaves notes for you. The main mechanic is turning the background a certain color, which vanishes blocks, lasers and platforms as well. Fuchsia boulder tumbling furiously at you? Quick, change the color and it disappears past you! Looking for a door? Maybe the orange background is the same color, so you have to shift. That's what Hue is all about. I did everything in about 10 hours, as there is backtracking that makes you re-solve a bunch of the puzzles.

Last but not least is Oceanhorn, one of my most looked-forward-to indie titles all year, though it was released in 2014. The game idea was sold to me as a Zelda clone. Sold! The only complaint so far is the direction isn't very straightforward, so I spend a lot of time revisiting the wrong places, trying to find new access points with my new items. Ahh well, besides looking and playing like a Zelda game, there is also an exp-based leveling system, so that's neat. I've barely put 3 hours into the game, so will be working on that in November.

This list of games did great damage to my backlog, though only 2 of them were free, so I lose some frugal points there. I hope to gain those back, as one of my best friends just loaned me The Witcher, Final Fantasy XV, and its DLC.

Game on, people!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Games in October

Yeesh, this was the month of steady grinding, and not in a good way. Reflecting back, it might have been my least-enjoyable month of gaming this year. To set the tone, Gamefly offered me 2-at-a-time a $1 membership to come back to their service, so I happily signed up, thinking I'd have a similar experience as earlier this year.

Not 'pages,' 'pagies,' because it's...stupid?
I was finishing up the definitely-too-much-of-a-good-thing Final Fantasy XII and took 2.5 weeks to complete the first game, Yooka-Laylee. This game is controversial because fans of the developer's previous games Banjo Kazooie/Tooie called those games perfect platformers--and how do you really follow up to perfection?

Lots of jokes. Side note: this boss is super hard.
Yooka and Laylee are two buddies that explore, platform, and waste a whole bunch of your time all the while. In terms of exploring, this game rewards you with collectibles that aren't too far off the beaten path, and the scenery and graphics are beautiful. I also have to say that this game has one of the most diversified list of tasks - minigames - that I've ever seen, and most of them are pretty fun and thoroughly developed. Timed switches where you platform and collect, mine cart racing ala Donkey Kong Country, sliding and dodging, aiming and shooting, puzzling and a dozen other things you can do while you collect more than 1200 items.

A snake...named Trowzer. RILLY?
However, I mentioned that most of the minigames are fun, and this is where Yooka-Laylee gets tainted. For starters, the camera sucks. When there is an object between your perspective and the character, the camera doesn't know what to do. The controls tied to the camera suck, and at times the minigames control sucks, which is a great recipe for frustration. Good camera physics are the second pillar of a good platforming/adventure game and this game gets an F minus in that regard. The next gripe is inconsistency. Most of the game is easy and presents a lower-mid-level challenge: I did about half the tasks on the first try, employing some of my 10 Gaming Commandments.

Featuring a character from a better game.
Then there are certain boss fights and tasks that are so unreasonably difficult that I found myself swearing up a storm in front of a such a cutesy-fun game. Think about how humbling a Mario Kart blueshell is, and scatter that feeling throughout Yooka-Laylee, and you can understand why reviews blast this game so harshly. Also, the dialogue sucks and can barely be skipped. Ugh. With a single player game, the devs have no incentive to waste your time (as online multiplayer trophies and DLC does), so who thought this was a good idea? I can recommend Yooka-Laylee for people who like 3d adventure games, and it's a lot better if you're not going for all collectibles and can skip some of the more bullshit tasks.

Raphael still sucks in this game.
The next rental that I played for 2 days and returned was Platinum Games' TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan. This developer is known for games like Bayonetta and Vanquish. Bayo is hot shit, but the universe in that game makes no sense, nor does the story, and I never made it more than half way through the first game. Vanquish is a different story. I loved that game, and had one measly challenge left, after doing everything else, that kept me from the platinum trophy. TMNT has that feel of beating up loads of enemies with a noncommittal camera and maybe it was the other game I was playing at the time, but it felt so underwhelming. Maybe I didn't like this game because I shouldn't have played it alongside Yooka-Laylee. The turtles have a bit of personality, but you can set their moves to pretty much mimic each other. The AI controls 3 of them and you can switch them mid-combo and do some pretty cool moves that don't do much damage. Then you get to the third level and keep dying. Over. And. Over. This one is hard to recommend. To add insult to injury, mail time ate up 8 days with this rental.

One other rental was Trivial Pursuit Live, which was pretty awesome for what it was. The music was cool and the questions were a good challenge. That was a quick 100%.

My last rental has a special slathering of hatred for the month of October. Get this: Tekken 7 has a known error (still took a decent amount of Google-fu) that botches the 25-minute install. So, I fire it up and that happens. I see smudges on the disc and try again the next day. Doesn't work. Send the disc back. 8 days later, I get my replacement, and by then it's time to cancel with Gamefly as the $1 month was up. This time, the installation makes it to about 90% and quits.

At this point, I have wasted 1.5 weeks with a game that doesn't even work, bringing my monthly game rental count to 4 total games. This is a poor reflection of the rental company, and of course Namco, for making a game that doesn't install. The bug is that the game installs from the disc at the same time of downloading the patch, which apparently applies to the still-installing game. Play test, Namco. Plenty of other games do this just fine. Once I got Tekken 7 installed, it came to be what I expected, with a quick trophy list and naturally the two worst part of modern fighters: unfair, difficulty-shrugging special bosses and the online community, who are all masters of the Iron Fist Tournament.

Still got babes, dho.
Tekken 7 has dope graphics, but because the series always sticks to glossy-flashy, it will never look real, but that's fine. Stay with your art style! It plays like every Tekken game, has a story mode that I skipped entirely (I just want to fight), and has cool title screen music. It's also got a platinum trophy list that's easy to recommend. If you can install it, that is.

Change the sheets and I'm out!

Last up: one of my Games in 2017Steamworld: Heist features steampunk-robot-cowboys--"cowbots"--doing missions around the solar system in a 2d tactics game with RPG elements. There are 9 playable characters and their skill sets mean you play them all quite differently. Each mission, you are free to select your crew, and Piper Faraday is only loosely your main character. Shoot robots and turrets, collect loot, enjoy cyborg-talk. Easy recommendation, here, folks.

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...